While my pictures and smiling face may imply otherwise, I don’t actually jump onto the trail with a carefree attitude, confident in my abilities, feeling sure-footed every step of the way.
I usually step out cautiously from my vehicle, peer around, second guess myself and my abilities, and question the safety of the situation.
I imagine all possible things that could go wrong as I get the dogs set up and hoist up my pack. I face the trailhead, peering through the dim pre-dawn light.
Well, really, no one is around, so I could just go back home and crawl into bed and no one would be the wiser. I take a step.
What time it would be when I’d actually arrive back in my bed? Another step.
Those initial emotions and thoughts pop up again, but maybe with a few less worst-case-scenario disasters running through my brain. I take a few more steps.
**Loud noise** Oh heck, was that a bear?!* Panic!* Kristen, bears don’t live in this area… Crap, it was a mountain lion! Oh man, it’s going to stalk me and kill me! *scan surrounding area searching for the slightest movement indicating the location of a stalker mountain lion* *hear sound again* Eek! *glance at one of the dogs just in time to see it sneeze a third time* Aye caramaba, Kristen! Calm the heck down! *deep breath*
I start walking and try to focus on the beauty around me. Soon I forget about returning to the safety of my bed. The first rays of sunshine peek over the mountain tops.
I hope I’ll have the courage to finish the whole loop.
More steps. Still keeping an eye out for slow creeping movements of the mountain lion that isn’t stalking me, while also admiring the last bits of spring blooms.
Without realizing it, I’m an hour into my hike and oblivious to my list of worries. The beauty of the mountains has taken priority.
Heading down into a valley I’m suddenly catapulted forward, flailing about awkwardly as I try to gain my balance so I can fight off the mountain lion that took me down!
I see the dogs just staring at me, waiting for me to get up. What, that wasn’t a mountain lion? I see a rock jutting up from the trail. Oh, it was you.
I dust myself off and return to my hike – this time balancing the wonder and joy with a healthy respect (not fear!) for my surroundings.
It’s not like a switch has been flipped and I’m suddenly unafraid and without worry, but once I get over that initial step into the unknown I remember it's really not all that unknown.
I’ve been here before – maybe not on this trail exactly, but in this situation of taking those first steps into an unknown.
It gets easier. The more I do it, the more I can apply from what I’ve learned previously -- do my research to understand what I legitimately need to know to be prepared (trail conditions, local wildlife, presence of water, weather, etc.); tell people where I’ll be and when to expect to hear that I’ve returned; etc.
There is still that first hurdle to jump, that first step to take, but it is always worth it.
Garden Valley Loop
First Water Trailhead